Addressing Racism in Travel and Tourism, with Cindy Rodriguez

Episode 202

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Cindy Rodriguez is the Co-Founder of Adirondack Diversity Solutions, a Human Resources consulting firm focusing on diversity and inclusion within the workforce and beyond. Adirondack Diversity Solutions works with organizations to create and execute initiatives that share the organization’s vision, support its mission, and live its values through forward-leaning innovations that materialize the social and economic benefits of a diversified workforce and client base. With over ten years of Human Resources experience spanning across industries, Cindy delivers innovative human resources solutions that promote transparency in policy and procedures, communication strategies, community engagement, all while embracing and embedding diversity, equity, and inclusion into organizational values, culture, policies, and practices. Destination on the Left is joined by Cindy Rodriguez, Co-founder of Adirondack Diversity Solutions. Her company is an HR consulting firm that designs and implements initiatives around their clients’ visions, missions, and values. As a result, they can capitalize on the social and economic benefits of a diversified work environment. With over ten years of human resources experience, Cindy delivers innovative human resources solutions that promote transparency in policy and procedures, communication strategies, community engagement. On our podcast, Cindy explains how this approach to HR ties into the ideas of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • What is is like to be “one of a few”
  • Why there is a lack of representation in consumer campaigns
  • What travel and tourism professionals can do to improve engagement with diverse audiences
  • The work Cindy’s team is doing to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace
  • Why intentionality is such a powerful tool for travel and tourism professionals

Using Creativity and Collaboration to Address Racism

Cindy Rodriguez is the Co-founder of Adirondack Diversity Solutions, an HR consulting firm that designs and implements initiatives around their clients’ visions, missions, and values. With Cindy’s expertise, Adirondack’s clients can capitalize on the social and economic benefits of a diversified work environment. Cindy has over ten years of human resources experience, and she delivers innovative HR solutions that promote transparency in policy and procedures, communication strategies, community engagement. On our podcast, Cindy explains how this approach to HR ties into the ideas of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“One of a Few”

Cindy is a first-generation Latina, and her love for travel and tourism was sparked by the annual trips to her parents’ home countries as she grew up in the United States. Through her experiences, however, Cindy often found herself feeling that she was “one of a few,” and that sparked her passion for the work with diversity, equity, and inclusion that she does today. Wanting those things is not enough. So Cindy partnered with Dr. Donathan Brown to help other organizations carry out those beliefs. From policies and procedures to recruitment and retention, they help clients engage communities of color to create more comprehensive products, programming, and outreach strategies.

Driving Community Engagement

Throughout her career, Cindy and Dr. Brown have relied heavily on creativity and collaboration to address racism in local communities. The Adirondack Experience and The Cooperstown Friends of The Village Library are two great examples. ADS has partnered with them to help tourism leaders of color share their journeys and visions for the future. While they’re helping to put the spotlight on this demographic, they are also engaging the community as a whole with a unique, action-oriented dialogue. The power of creativity and collaboration is limitless, even in unprecedented times.

Nicole Mahoney: 00:17 Hello listeners. This is Nicole Mahoney, host of destination on the left. This week’s episode is going to be a change from our regular format. I welcome Cindy Rodriguez to the show to talk about equity, diversity and inclusion, and the tourism industry. Cindy is the co founder of Adirondack diversity solutions. And she is the one who gave me the idea for creating a series on this show to talk about diversity, equity and inclusion in our conversation today, Cindy and I talk about what it is like to be one of a few, the lack of representation and consumer campaigns in general and what travel and tourism professionals can do to improve engagement with diverse audiences. Cindy shares, examples of the work that her organization is doing now. And she talks about how intense reality is a powerful tool. I know you’ll get a lot out of this week’s episode, but first a little more about Cindy Cindy’s company.

Nicole Mahoney: 01:15 Adirondack diversity solutions is a human resources consulting firm, focusing on diversity and inclusion within the workforce and beyond Adirondack diversity solutions works with organizations to create and execute initiatives that share the organization’s division supports its mission and lives its values through forward-leaning innovations that materialize the social and economic benefits of a diversified workforce and client base. With over 10 years of human resources experience spanning across industries, Cindy delivers innovative human resource solutions that promote transparency and policy and procedures, communication strategies, community engagement, all while embracing and embedding diversity, equity and inclusion into organizational values, culture, policies, and practices. This is going to be a great learning experience for all of us, but before we get started with the interview, I have this important message to share. Cindy, thank you so much for joining us today. I’m really looking forward to this conversation, but before we get started with the questions, can you share your story with our listeners in your own words? I find it gives us such a lot more context to our conversation, of course. And thank you so much for the call for having me here today. So my story, well, I feel like that’s such a loaded question. Um, I am a first generation Latina. My father immigrated from Mexico and my mother immigrated from El Salvador. Uh, growing up, we traveled each year to their respective home countries, which really sparked

Cindy Rodriguez: 03:00 The love of travel for me. Um, and let’s see, I was born in Los Angeles. Uh, we lived there and I was a young child. Um, we left, uh, largely due to be Los Angeles uprising in 92. And we relocated to a small rural town in Northeast Colorado, where for many of my younger years, I recall pretty much being the only student of color in the classroom. Um, and unfortunately that followed me through undergrad, which was in a small rural town in Iowa, um, until I moved out to DC, um, and um, spent some time there and now I live in beautiful upstate New York, um, and practically having grown up in Colorado with the Rockies. Um, let’s see, I was naturally attracted to the Adirondack mountain region of New York. Uh, and so we

Nicole Mahoney: 03:55 Basically, uh, go back and forth

Cindy Rodriguez: 03:58 Tween, upstate and the Adirondack region, and really just like to take in, um, the outdoors and just spend some quality time. Um, and so however, it didn’t really take long to figure out that I would once again, find myself, um, being one of a few persons of color in that space as well. Um, and so that’s really what propelled my work in diversity, equity, access and inclusion, I guess that’s my story in a nutshell.

Nicole Mahoney: 04:29 Well, there’s a lot to it. And I think that was pretty a pretty succinct description of what I’m sure is a lot, a lot of years and a lot of experiences along the way. Um, but you did give us quite a, uh, a good viewpoint into, you know, your experiences and your life journey, um, being the first generation Latina, um, and you know, really that what sparked your level of travel, which, which I, I personally love that you have that, you know, because of those trips to Mexico and El Salvador, um, and that you moved from, you know, where the place where you were born because of the 1992 uprising, uh, they happened in Los Angeles, um, which I think gives you some really interesting perspective, especially in these times, right. Um, in 2020. So, um, but you know what, one of the things that I, I wrote down, as you said, it, I keep, I kept finding myself as one of a few and I find that, um, really interesting. And then you said that that propelled you into the work that you’re doing today. So can you talk a little bit more about the work that you’re doing today, and I know your, your, uh, in your company that you’re working with and for our listeners a little bit more context as to what you’re doing now. Um, you know, for me, um, I think it was that lack of

Cindy Rodriguez: 05:50 Presentation, representation, and engagement of communities and color where growing up, you, I didn’t really see a lot of representation. Um, with regards to consumer marketing campaigns, you know, we were on the Latin American destination brochures. We were the feature, right, like of a world to be discovered that wasn’t the representation that I wanted, uh, for, for myself. You know, it’s not enough to just have the belief that all persons, regardless of race, gender, nationality, ability, sexual orientation, and expression, religion age, and beyond should have equal access and opportunity, but it’s actually doing the work and ensuring that those beliefs actually carry through. Um, so I partnered together with my partner in life, uh, dr. Doniphan Brown, and we founded Adirondack diversity solutions, which is a human resources consulting firm that promotes diversity, equity, access and inclusion through longterm strategic solutions. Um, and basically what we do is we help organizations create, um, intentional diversity and inclusion, strategic plans, um, which really consists of evaluating policies and procedures to mitigate barriers, to access and success. Um, looking at recruitment and retention strategies and finding ways in which we can engage, um, communities and communities of color in particular, um, to create, um, products, programming and outreach strategies that are more comprehensive and more representative.

Nicole Mahoney: 07:26 I think that’s a, that’s really great. And you do this, um, not just for organizations in the travel industry, but for all types of organizations, right?

Cindy Rodriguez: 07:35 Correct. Yeah. We work with, um, organizations from nonprofits to, um, educational institutions to travel industry. You name it.

Nicole Mahoney: 07:46 Yeah. I think that’s really great. And so, so needed. Right. Especially right now, I know with, you know, the reason why you and I are having this conversation, it’s an important one to have, but also we’re having it right now in the month of October when this podcast is running a series on this topic. And, and of course the reason that that really kind of prompted that was a conversation you and I had, um, about the need to really kind of highlight the work that’s being done. Um, and I know that there are so many organization leaders, business owners, um, deemos, especially in the travel space that are really trying to figure out, I think what you said was how do they do the work? It’s one thing to have the beliefs, but how do you actually, you know, act and affect change? And it sounds like these plans that you do with your clients really help them, um, take action. Is that right? Absolutely. That’s awesome. So we’ve already talked about it a little bit, but, um, I, I wanted to ask you, you know, how you personally have been impacted by issues of diversity, equity or inclusion, um, you know, whether that be within your career. I mean, you’ve mentioned, you know, being, finding yourself as one of a few, um, and just curious how that, uh, has really impacted you, um, throughout your career. And if you have any stories that you would be willing to share with our listeners.

Cindy Rodriguez: 09:16 Sure. You know, I, it’s really interesting. Um, my, my experiences, um, traveling, uh, I think I find a very peculiar difference when I travel in the States than when I do internationally. And, um, you know, it’s that notion in the States that I don’t belong, um, you know, regardless of my accolades, my accomplishments, my commitments to my community and so on, um, regardless of where I go, it’s that usual or casual, you know, Oh, you must not be from around here line of questioning. That really leaves me feeling like, yeah, you don’t belong here and, you know, abroad, it’s, it’s a different experience. Um, I’m an American, um, you know, depending on the language that I’m speaking at the time, I may be Spanish. And, you know, that’s, that’s usually the extent, um, I met with some genuine curiosity and a desire to learn more about me as a person in my home. Um, and far, often than not, I’m welcomed and I’m embraced. And unfortunately that’s not something that I find here at quote unquote home.

Nicole Mahoney: 10:27 That’s a really interesting perspective, you know, that whole idea of you must not be from around here now. I certainly can think of times when I’ve been asked that question, you know, or have received that statement as well, depending on, you know, the context, but I can see where, you know, now just having this conversation with you, I can see where that has a whole different meaning. Um, you know, when you’re a person of color or like you said, you’re one of few in that one of, of the majority. So, um, I think that really gives us a lot to kind of think about and contemplate. And so I’m, I’m really wondering what kinds of creative solutions, um, either have you seen implemented, or can you suggest for our listeners to, uh, to think about putting into practice, um, that would help them, you know, address these issues of diversity, equity and inclusion?

Cindy Rodriguez: 11:25 Yeah, absolutely. That’s a great question. Um, you know, I think one example that comes to mind is a collaboration with community organizations to address racism in communities. Um, two that come to mind are the Adirondack experience and the Cooperstown friends of the library, which are partnering, um, with an, creating a platform for tourism leaders of color to share their journeys and hopes for the future. Um, and the really important thing and, and really neat thing about this is that while they’re also engaging, um, community leaders of color and industry leaders of color, they’re also engaging the community as a whole, right. And this action oriented dialogue to create not just a conversation, but action steps to then lead to a more welcoming and inclusive environment. Um, and then with today’s technology, we’re able to broadcast these conversations widely to encourage more destinations to take action. But I think it’s, you know, the notion of remembering that our destinations are communities first and foremost, and, and the work starts at home. And so how can we collectively work together to, to address these issues of racism?

Nicole Mahoney: 12:42 Yeah. And so can you give an example of how these, uh, of conversations are taking place? Um, are they female? Are they, you know, round table? What does that look like? Actually in action?

Cindy Rodriguez: 12:56 Sure. Um, so the Adirondack experience launched a virtual series called black and the Adirondacks. It’s a series of, uh, different guest speakers and educational, um, uh, zoom sessions where, um, the topic is, uh, very pointed, right? It’s, it’s really focusing on racism, um, anti-racism um, and providing shared experiences, um, but also resources, right connections and, and having these communities or these conversations with community members, not just, you know, the, the same folks, the same advocates, but really engaging others. The Cooper’s town, friends of the library series is a little different. Um, they’ve structured their series to have a little bit of history to, uh, well, it’s actually called race Cooperstown reflects on racism, and it focuses on a historical element, um, a host, uh, tourism element education, um, and so on. And so, um, two very different examples. Um, but both having that parallel of engaging, um, the community leaders of color and kind of coming together to ensure that conversations are meaningful and action oriented.

Nicole Mahoney: 14:16 Those are really great, uh, really, really wonderful, um, examples. And, um, I’m, I’m curious with the other on-deck experience, um, in particular, um, are, are they hosting different speakers or are they just picking different topics for each of their series conversations? How are they structuring that?

Cindy Rodriguez: 14:39 Sure. So they’ve part, they partnered with a series of different organizations, including the Adirondack diversity initiative. And so together they’ve sourced a, of are a variety of different speakers and panelists. Um, and some of the conversations are quite themed. Um, most notably was, um, driving while bat black. Um, there were, it was a two part series driving while black part one and two. Um, and then there was the black experience in the Adirondacks. And so it was really just addressing the need for these critical conversations in a community and communal environment. Yeah.

Nicole Mahoney: 15:20 Yeah, I think that’s great. I appreciate you giving us that, that extra layer of detail. I think that really helps us understand, um, a little bit better, uh, you know, exactly how you have these conversations and, you know, and, and where one might start. So I love that there’s this other diversity initiative that they’re able to partner with, and then they were able to come up with themes and speakers and presenters that way, because great.

Cindy Rodriguez: 15:47 It’s all about that collaboration.

Nicole Mahoney: 15:49 Absolutely. And, you know, I love collaboration. So I’m kind of looking into the future a little bit. What, what should the tourism industry be doing now, you know, to, to really make change happen for future generations so that, you know, I mean, you talked about 1992, you know, moving from Los Angeles because of the uprising there. And here we are, you know, almost 30 years later still seemingly to have some of the very same conversations. So what can we do to make a change? So we’re not having the same conversation on another 20 years.

Cindy Rodriguez: 16:28 I truly wish I had the answer for that.

Nicole Mahoney: 16:32 I know it’s a question. It is.

Cindy Rodriguez: 16:34 And, you know, the thing is we can’t eradicate racism. Single-handedly just as racism, doesn’t survive by just one person. Um, you know, as industry leaders, we have a greater obligation to ensure the future and the success of our industry. And again, it starts with having conversations, working towards more welcoming work environments and community things, setting diversity, equity, and inclusion, strategic goals, providing opportunities, such as internships, apprenticeships, and management, training programs and sharing. When we have successful programs and projects to empower our peers, it also means holding each other accountable when we’re not doing the work. Um, and then, you know, when we’re seeking these collaborations, it’s really engaging beyond our horizons that is beyond, you know, the who, you know, and what you know. Um, and I think this is, this is where we start. And I don’t unfortunately think that the work will ever be done. There is there’s so much. And, you know, it’s, again, remembering that, you know, as much as we market destinations, there are communities, there are communities. And we also have that obligation our communities. And, you know, it starts with doing the work at home and having those conversations at home. And before we invite others,

Nicole Mahoney: 18:01 Yeah, no, I think you just gave us a whole bunch of things that we can be doing to help make change. And, um, I love the idea of internships and apprenticeships and, you know, those career paths. Um, and then also the accountability piece, I think, is so important and being able to hold each other accountable. And then also the point that you made about, um, it’s more than who we know you have to look beyond your own horizons and, and really, you know, reach out. And so I think those are just some really fantastic points. Um, and as you were talking, I was thinking back to an earlier question, when you had answered about, um, consumer, uh, marketing, not necessarily referee being representative of who you, you know, of who you are, and unless it was a, the note I wrote to myself, was it, unless it was a niche piece specifically targeted at the, you know, Latina market.

Nicole Mahoney: 19:04 And so I’m wondering, you know, as you think about that and about representation, I know it’s more than representation. Um, but I’m thinking about a conversation I had recently with someone who said, Nicole, your strategic marketing plans for, you know, for your tourism clients that you’re working with. Um, when you talk about target target audience, um, if you’re very generalized in your target audiences, trying to group everybody into one big audience that might be, you know, families, or it might be girlfriends or whatever, whatever that target audience might be, if you don’t call out the different, um, you know, the different people of color or LGBTQ, or some of those other niche segments that you’ll miss the Mark on the messaging. And so I’m wondering what you, if you’ve given some thought to that, like, how does this translate into that advertising where you were saying it was missing the Mark, right. It wasn’t speaking to you. And I mean, do you think that there’s some value in that really being, being very intentional about calling out those target audiences so that you make sure you hit the messaging for those audiences as well, and not grouping everybody into one big yes. Generalized

Cindy Rodriguez: 20:23 Absolutely. I would say intentionality is a powerful tool, but it starts with acknowledgement before we get to that intentionality piece. Right. It’s acknowledging that we haven’t engaged communities of color in the tourism industry. Um, and then it’s intentionality, right? That intentional outreach to have those conversations it’s educating ourselves, um, about being and, and, you know, the different terminologies, um, between, um, gender pronouns. It’s really taking that step to be intentional in our outreach, our engagement and our collaborations. Um, and as organizations and businesses, the same applies, it’s taking a good look at our organizations from the diversity and the makeup of our teams, leaderships and boards to marketing and outreach, um,

Nicole Mahoney: 21:15 Really asking or

Cindy Rodriguez: 21:17 Selves, you know, um, who are we reaching and more importantly, who aren’t we reaching and why

Nicole Mahoney: 21:25 I love that? Who are we reaching? And then more importantly, who aren’t we reaching and why I think that’s, uh, that can be very, very telling and, and could actually shed some light, right. And some new opportunities. Yeah. I love that.

Cindy Rodriguez: 21:44 It’s a whole market segment. We haven’t stepped into. And honestly, these days we just can’t continue with business as usual, our country and our industry just has neglected communities of color for far too long. And, you know, it’s not only is it the time to correct that and do something about that, but in a way that’s collaborative and intentional and long lasting instead of really shortsighted, prescriptive measures.

Nicole Mahoney: 22:10 Absolutely. So we’ve talked a lot about collaboration already, but I did want to ask you another question specifically about collaboration and you’ve already given us some examples, but I’m hoping maybe we can elaborate a little bit on it. And a regular listeners of this show know that I’m a huge believer in collaboration. And I do believe it’s the best way to move through all kinds of challenges. So I’m, I’m wondering how you see collaboration really playing a role, um, with diversity equity and inclusion. And you’ve given us some examples already, but if we could get a little bit more, um, detail around, you know, how, how that can really work. Yeah.

Cindy Rodriguez: 22:51 The best example that comes to mind, um, is the, uh, museum diversity fellowship program that we launched with the Adirondack experience in 2019, um, where we brought in a cohort of six students from across the nation with diverse backgrounds and, um, introduce them to the museum industry. Um, we created a curriculum that, um, provided a behind the scenes, look at the museum industry from a visitor engagement to fundraising and curating exhibits and research. Um, and then also wanted to incorporate a, uh, community engagement component, right, because we didn’t want the fellows to just come to the Adirondack experience and to blue mountain Lake and not really enjoy, um, the beauty that the Adirondacks. And so we collaborated with a series of different organizations and nonprofits to have them have field trips and explore different Adirondack communities from old forge to Lake Placid, to Tupper Lake to long Lake, um, and Glens falls. And, um, it was a beautiful experience. Um, the fellows not only had the opportunity to learn more about the museum industry, the history of the Adirondacks, the diversity and inclusion movement that is going on in the Adirondacks. Um, but also get to learn about the history of the communities and engage with community members and local leaders. And they ended up with a wealth of knowledge, um, a strong network, and it was just such a beautiful thing.

Nicole Mahoney: 24:33 That sounds amazing. I think that’s a fantastic example and I just love how far reaching it was in terms of, you know, um, not just the experience that they’re getting in the museum industry from, you know, as you mentioned, uh, curating to fundraising the visitor experience, but also that amazing experience that is the Adirondacks and really understanding, you know, where they are doing this work and the history of place right. Of where they are. Um, and I love that you brought in the local leaders and the, and the many different communities. Um, I think that’s a fantastic example of collaboration. I love that. Absolutely.

Cindy Rodriguez: 25:17 And we couldn’t bring them to the Adirondacks and not have fun. I mean, recreation is such an important recreation. Tourism is such an important part of the Adirondacks that we would have been a miss if we had not introduced them to that. And so for us, it was a not only was it fun to share, you know, a place that means so much to us, but it was just very rewarding to introduce bins from underserved communities to this beautiful area and in a way where, um, the students felt comfortable. And, um, we were able to do things safely from hiking to camping, having fun in the water.

Nicole Mahoney: 25:59 That’s amazing. That’s really fantastic. How did the Adirondack museum fund that type of an initiative was, was it a grant that they received or do you know how the funding piece worked?

Cindy Rodriguez: 26:11 Sure. Um, yes. So we received a grant from the New York council of the arts, um, and the SCA, I believe is the acronym. Um, and the Adirondack experience also, uh, fundraised for the program. We were able to provide a very generous compensation package for the students, um, where they were provided with free housing, um, transportation, um, to and from, uh, I’m sorry, a, um, travel stipend, um, to, and from their, uh, college or home, uh, airport and, um, transportation within the Adirondacks, because for many of you who don’t know, um, you know, Trent, the Adirondacks doesn’t have public transportation, uh, you know, Uber and Lyft, isn’t really a big thing up there. Um, and so, uh, being able to get around, um, with, in the Adirondacks was, was very important. So we needed to really create that infrastructure, um, for the students to have a really memorable experience. Um, but yes, we did have a grant. Um, and also the experience, the Adirondack experience was able to fundraise to provide, um, a very generous compensation and benefits package.

Nicole Mahoney: 27:25 That’s awesome. That’s fantastic. Um, so many great ideas that you have shared with us and, and really good insights. And I really appreciate you spending some time with us. I’m, I’m curious, Cindy, if there’s any final thoughts or anything that maybe I didn’t ask you, that, that you wanted to share with our listeners.

Cindy Rodriguez: 27:46 I, Nicole, I would say first and foremost, I really just want to thank you for your interest and your hard work and making this series possible. Beings are some serious credit, serious and critical conversations that need to be had. And I truly appreciate you lending your platform and your resources to those very timely series. And I just can’t thank you enough for allowing me to be a part of that. And, um, you know, I look forward to, um, seeing more and learning more and seeing some of the collaborations that are forthcoming in the end. Yeah,

Nicole Mahoney: 28:19 Absolutely. And, uh, thank, thank you for that. And, you know, this is my way actually, of, of, uh, reaching beyond right. And learning. And through this series, I am learning quite a bit on how to have these conversations myself, because you know, these are uncomfortable for all of us. And so my hope is by the work that I, that we’re doing here on the show, um, we’re able to show, you know, as uncomfortable as it can be. We can have these conversations they need to be had, and there’s plenty to do so. Yeah. So I’m very thankful for your time today and appreciate you giving us this idea to start and letting me run with it. Um, and we’ll look forward to catching up with you again.

Cindy Rodriguez: 29:04 My pleasure. Thank you so much, Nicole. Really appreciate it.

Nicole Mahoney: 29:08 Thank you for listening all the way to the end of this week’s episode. This gives me a chance to ask you for a favor. We have a goal to reach 100 ratings and reviews on our podcast. By the end of 2020, we are already well on our way to meeting this goal, but need your help. I love sharing my interviews with you, and if you enjoy them too, I would, uh, greatly appreciate you giving us a rating and review click the iTunes or Stitcher link on destination on the or leave one, right in your favorite app where you listen most often, it only takes a and your support means a lot.

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